A cholesterol-lowering drug could make coronavirus as treatable as the common cold, scientists have suggested. Researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center looked at depriving the virus of nutrients which Covid-19 needs to survive.
They found that fat which accumulates inside lung cells is a key component of what the virus needs to reproduce.
Depriving the virus of these conditions could mean that the virus could be better controlled, with the researchers claiming it could be reduced to something akin to an ordinary cold.
“By understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 controls our metabolism, we can wrestle back control from the virus and deprive it from the very resources it needs to survive,” said Prof Yaakov Nahmias from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He continued: “With second-wave infections spiking in countries across the globe, these findings couldn’t come at a better time.
“If our findings are borne out by clinical studies, this course of treatment could potentially downgrade Covid-19’s severity into nothing worse than a common cold.”
During the study, which was previewed by the Cell Press – a publisher of biomedical journals, including Cell and Neuron – scientists screened medications that could interfere with the virus’s ability to reproduce.
They found that one cholesterol-lowering drug, fenofibrate, showed promising results which allowed lung cells to burn more fat and therefore depriving the coronavirus of the conditions it needed to survive.
After five days of treatment with the drug, the researchers said that the virus had almost completely disappeared in lab studies.
Another study published by Cambridge University Press this week found that three in four coronavirus deaths in China had at least one underlying health condition.
More than 40 per cent of those had high blood pressure, and more than a quarter had heart disease – conditions both linked to high cholesterol.
The University of Jerusalem researchers hope that with clinical trials, a cholesterol treatment for the virus could become viable to help fight Covid-19.
With a working vaccine often taking years to develop, and with no guarantees that it will be completely effective, therapeutic treatments are currently being researched to fight the virus.
Last month, the Government approved the use of Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug, for treatment of coronavirus patients after extensive testing in the UK’s ‘Recover’ trial.
Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Virology at the University of Reading, said: “The study is one of several ‘bottom up’ approaches to understand what infection by SARS-2 does to human cells.
“The idea is that blocking key biochemical steps the virus uses should lead to a reduction in virus infectivity. This is borne out here as the study shows that a common cholesterol lowering drug did indeed lower virus replication.
“It’s a great entry to simple treatments that may be beneficial but you have to be cautious about assuming that what happens in a lab will translate to the same effect in a patient.
“One of the features of the drug trials to date is that they have all been late, when patients are already hospitalised, and drugs like those suggested here would have to be given much earlier if they were going to have any effect.”